A Path Through the Forest
The Munda Biddi Trail (meaning ‘path through the forest’ in the Aboriginal Noongar language) is soon to become the longest off-road cycle trail in the world, covering more than 1000kms between Mundaring (35kms east of Perth) and Albany. There is just one more section of trail to be completed, from Manjimup to Denmark, due to open later this year. Considering this impressive claim to fame, we decided to give our steeds an off-road workout and follow the trail as it winds its way south.
Christmas was looming as we cycled out of Perth, dressed to the nines in stylish matching reindeer antlers. We must have radiated festive spirit – the number of times people yelled out ‘Merry Christmas’ or ‘Hi Donner and Blitzen’ from cars, bicycles and worksites was astonishing. It all felt very jolly and put us in great spirits.
If you have an eye for detail and memory for figures, you may have noticed a gradual increase in Stack Points in the ‘Stats’ box on the right since we departed Cairns; well our week on the Munda Biddi saw the points tally skyrocket! There was even a spectacular collision between a misplaced tree and myself; my left rear pannier was torn completely off its fixings and left in the dust as I went out of control down a small rocky hill. Maximum stack points for that one. At the time it was becoming dark, we had taken a wrong turn down a firetrail and were frantically looking for a hut we knew was nearby. Talk about timing.
The trail had started rather innocuously; smooth dirt doubletrack leading down to the Mundaring Weir, then climbing up the other side of the valley along rough fire trail, with some meandering singletrack thrown in here and there to sweeten things up. All was surrounded by eucalypt forest and not a car in sight. The overpriced but brilliantly detailed Munda Biddi Trail map indicated this section was rated ‘medium difficulty’. A reasonable rating we thought, and assumed most of the trail should therefore be rideable. Only a few sections between Mundaring and Collie, our planned exit point, were marked ‘hard’, and all were short enough to walk if need be.
Note to self: assumptions only lead to disappointment.
The track rapidly deteriorated as we continued climbing out from the Weir. Whoever built this section obviously hadn’t heard of the concept of using switchbacks or putting in water bars to prevent washout, and there were deep ruts carved the width of the trail that made bush-bashing look like a better option. The gradient became so steep it was laughable – even the pros would be lucky to get through on an unloaded mountain bike, never mind a bike carrying overnight camping gear and food – the sort of cycling the trail is marketed to. The surface was covered in small loose rocks that felt like walking on marbles. It took both of us to haul one bike to the top, occasionally finding ourselves slipping backwards down the hill.
To make things even more interesting, while we were taking two steps forward and one back out came the march flies in a veritable cloud. There were so many of them we couldn’t slap our arms and legs fast enough, they could bite through our clothes and whenever we slowed down a little they’d be on us. The march fly dance was our only option; a crazy waving of limbs and stomping of feet with strangled yelps of pain and anger. So ended our first day on the Munda Biddi.
Day two presented a different kind of challenge: ankle deep pea gravel, which our tyres sank into like deep soft sand. Half the day was spent trying to haul our bikes along and making painfully slow progress. When we could ride we made the most of it, and pulled off some impressive stacks. Christian had a particularly good slow-motion wipeout around a deep sandy corner.
The Munda Biddi Trail wasn’t all bad though. We didn’t have to fight any cars. There was lots of wildlife, including birds, snakes, emus and small marsupials. Our new macro lens was well used on the abundant wildflowers. We really loved being surrounded by forest and shade. Best of all, spaced at convenient intervals along the trail were fantastic huts with undercover picnic tables, bunks, rainwater tanks and bicycle racks. They felt very luxurious compared to a random patch of ground amongst spiky bushes, and were certainly a sight for sore legs at the end of the day.
Each hut had a unique character; Wungong Campsite was surrounded by towering jarrah forest; Dandalup was set into an escarpment overlooking the distant lights of coastal towns; from the picnic table at Bidgar Ngoulin campsite we could hear a small stream gurgling over rocks and a refreshing swimming hole; and Yarri campsite was set into the side of a valley overlooking the forest. Unbelievably we had them all to ourselves!
Not only was it a real treat to stay in the huts most nights, we also enjoyed reading about other cyclist’s experiences on the trail in each ‘Campsite Logbook’. Some riders made only brief remarks on trail conditions and the weather, while others wrote entertaining entries that continued in instalments from one hut to the next. There were even poems and drawings. From these logbooks we discovered we were not alone in feeling the pea gravel was to be feared and loathed. We sympathised with others who did it tough, and felt we were not being overly critical in thinking the condition of this section was disappointing.
Encouragingly, cyclists who had ridden from south to north (the opposite direction to us) noted that the trail improved dramatically south of Dwellingup, and it did. Hooray! Our enjoyment also increased dramatically – fun winding trail through the forest, ups and downs and tight corners, challenging patches of sand and even a couple of small jumps. This was what we’d come for! It was almost a shame to arrive in Collie, however Busselton and Margaret River were waiting and we reluctantly left the Munda Biddi for the coast.
Christmas was only four days away as we cycled towards Busselton. The number of toots, waves and adults behind the wheel having a good giggle was off the charts! We didn’t mind the antlers getting caught on trees all the way along the trail if it meant so much Christmas cheer!
Busselton is home to the longest wooden jetty in the southern hemisphere, sticking out 2kms into Geographe Bay. We saw more than most as we went diving around the pylons at the end of the jetty, between towers of amazingly coloured soft corals growing on the surface of the pylons.
The number of wineries in the South West was overwhelming. Christian’s penchant for researching places to eat came to the fore, as he chose a handful that looked promising and most turned out to be a great. If you’re ever in the area, St Aidens in the Ferguson Valley was a standout for delicious whites and friendly service, as was Juniper Estate for reds. And the wineries weren’t the only attractions: Gabriel Chocolate was the best chocolate experience of my short life! They roast cacao beans from around the world and have a generous range to try, handmade with only simple ingredients and you can actually taste the difference between beans from around the world. It was really interesting.
So we arrived in Margaret River for Christmas, our panniers stocked with all sorts of treats J We had a couple of days relaxing at a guesthouse – away from the march flies, with a fridge for our goodies and even a bath! The highlight of our Christmas was definitely the bath.